Israel minister of tourism Yoel Razvozov on the country's ambitious tourism goals

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Yoel Razvozov, named Israel's minister of tourism in June 2021, set an ambitious goal for the small nation: 10 million tourists by 2030, more than double the 4.5 million tourists Israel had in 2019. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with Razvozov about what is being done to bring visitors back and long-term plans to attract new ones.

Yoel Razvozov
Yoel Razvozov

Q: What is Israel's strategy to bring tourism back after the pandemic standstill?

A: After two very hard and tough years the people of our industry are starting to smile. We feel the tourism recovery get better every month. We lifted all restrictions -- the PCR tests in the airport, masks, quarantines, etc. We are ready to host tourists, and according to the numbers we see that demand is very, very big. The demand is huge because people sat at home for two years and saved money. People are hungry to travel and discover a new destination or come back to their favorite places. Experts predict our tourism will recover maybe in 2025 or 2026. But I think that we'll see full recovery next year according to the numbers this year.

Q: How are you specifically courting the U.S. market?

A: It's our most important market, 25% of our tourists, so we have full-time offices [in the U.S.], we have online courses for travel agents, we have a new marketing campaign to attract U.S. tourists. We have to increase the number of flights because the demand is very high. The first tourists to return were the Jewish diaspora, because they didn't see their relatives for two years. Second, evangelical tourism: To visit the Holy Land is very, very important; there are many new programs for religious tourism and pilgrims. And now we need to expand our marketing for general FIT.

Q: Like much of Europe and the U.S., Israel has staffing problems and congestion at its airport. What's being done to alleviate this?

A: I visited the airport, and we created a working group with airport management to solve this problem. We found a few solutions. One is that the whole family should not wait on line for security and check-in: One person from the family can hold all the passports. We try to find creative solutions to solve this problem. I have worked with the finance ministry to raise airport workers' salary and maybe offer them free education.

Q: I understand there are 107 applications for Ministry of Tourism grants to build hotels. Why was this program launched? 

A: When I became minister I set a goal: 10 million tourists by 2030. It's a long-term plan over eight years. Now we have a goal, so we need more hotels. We need 40,000 more rooms than today, when we have around 65,000. We will fund 20% of the construction of the new hotel or expansion of a hotel. 

We must also shorten the period of hotel construction, because today it's too long; there's a lot of bureaucracy. I am trying to bring legislation to solve things and change laws to shorten it.

Q: Ten million is a lofty goal: It's more than double your 2019 numbers.

A: It is more than double, but in eight years. We're looking to develop new directions in tourism. Gastro-tourism: We have 360 wineries. Ecotourism: After the pandemic people are looking for open spaces, so camping and glamping in our beautiful desert. We have Jerusalem, the ancient city, the vibrant city of Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee.

We have a small country so you can visit it all in one trip. I think we have a lot to show to tourists. 

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